I sat in the small cafe huddled in a corner, my mind was wrapped in thought. A woman from the gym named Tammy walked inside, her hair was up, she wore a mask. She was in line for a mid-morning brew before she headed back to work. She wore jeans with a striped shirt; her hip leaned to one side. She spotted me and walked right up to my table.
We did our quick hellos and then the inevitable catch-up question, I cleared my throat, ” How are you feeling about covid life right now? Are you personally worried or are you over it?”
Tammy’s mouth was covered in a polka dot mask, her eyes lit up as she spoke, “I felt very sick back in January. I went to California twice before we heard all about this, I had all the symptoms, I’m sure I have the antibodies but I will do what I can to protect others.”
I drummed my fingers nervously, “Yeah I understand. I know it might sound the way this is going to sound ,” I stumbled over my words as I tried to gather my thoughts.
“I just don’t know if this is all worth it. A guy from my hometown, he was about sixteen years old, he was attractive, he was well-known in school. His mom asked him to go do his homework, he went upstairs and took his life. I don’t know if the kid had issues before or not. A lot of things can happen in isolation. I don’t know if locking down a country is worth all of these young people dying from suicide. Not just his life is over, there is the mom, there is the dad, there is their marriage and whether or not that will survive.”
Tammy bent down to speak so low it sounded like a whisper, “Its so interesting you say that, my brother died a few weeks ago, he committed suicide, he was twenty-two. He had some problems and was used to seeing this one counselor. He was so important to him I think. My brother isn’t very tech driven so he didn’t keep in contact with the counselor during covid. I think not being able to see him in person really affected my brother.”
“I’m so sorry, my brother over-dosed nearly a year ago. I just found out what it was last week. It was fentanyal. When I found out, it was like he died all over again. Have you ever heard of fentanyal?”
Tammy shook her head. I smiled through clenched teeth, “I had no idea either, I had to look it up.”
“Its supposed to be fifty to one hundred times stronger than morphine. In an over-dose the breathing slows until it stops, it feels similar to sleep apnea. They say its a very peaceful death. I’m grateful he didn’t suffer.”
“My brother shot himself. I think the worst part for me is that he was so young, he had his whole life ahead of him. My kids don’t seem to understand either. They know they saw him a few months ago. The finality of it all.” Tammy took a breath as if it was the first time she was able to say this out loud to anyone other than her family.
“I know a lot of people don’t believe in life after death. I think there is. I think it can be so hard for some people to be here. My brother tried so hard to fit in. He got the house, the job, he had the kids, he couldn’t take all that pressure. It was just too much for him. You know how in the movie where a person has one life over here but maybe they were supposed to have another life. I think that was my brother. I think he woke up everyday knowing that his life was supposed to be different and he couldn’t shake it. I believe when he died, it was like he took his first breath. I imagine it that way anyway. We all deal with anxiety and things like that, what if that heaviness never left ever.”
“Yeah I imagine that pressure would be hard to deal with. It was really good to run into you. I didn’t know there was anyone else I knew who felt this way.”
We both smiled at each other. Both of our throats hung in tight constriction. Tammy looked relieved. I knew her grief, she knew mine. I looked down and noticed my hands were clenched tightly together as if my hands were two lovers with fingers interlaced to provide comfort.
I looked back towards Tammy as she turned to walk away, “Anytime you want to talk I’d love too, you know what I mean.”
If you have had thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The link to their website is on the home button below. Call a friend, a family member, or a counselor. You are not alone.
A feeling, a thought, something terrible that has happened to you does not have to take your future. You matter. There are things for you to make, to see, to create, to explore, to be a part of. You matter so much.
(photo taken by Katherine Howard)